You may have heard many people comment on the anxious feelings they have after a night of particularly heavy drinking and attributed it to a particularly bad hangover, or else guilt over their behavior the previous night. Along with nausea, fatigue, headache, and regret, anxiety seems like another of the common symptoms of a hangover.
But now researchers have discovered that the link between alcohol and anxiety is real, and it's something all drinkers should be concerned about.
The link with anxiety may have a lot to do with the body's process of eliminating alcohol. First, your body's blood sugar drops in order to focus its energy on processing the alcohol rather than on maintaining glucose levels. Next, inflammation begins to occur.
This creates a two pronged effect. The lower blood sugar levels lead to feelings of nervousness and the inflammatory chemicals released by the body affect the nervous system. There is also the psychological effects of alcohol's ability to lower a person's inhibitions.
It may feel fun at the time, but drinking can actually make a person feel more depressed or anxious than they were before. This is ironic since the reason that many drink in the first place is to deal with unpleasant emotions associated with depression and anxiety.
If you're a person who already struggles with anxiety, it may be a good idea to avoid alcohol altogether. If that's not possible, then being aware of the ways alcohol affects anxiety is necessary. Here are some basic ways alcohol is linked to anxiety:
1. Changes the chemical balance in our brains.
It's well known among addiction researchers that alcohol has a serious effect on the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the chemical that contributes to feelings of happiness or general well being.
While drinking does cause an initial burst of serotonin that makes you feel great, eventually the levels drop lower than where they were before. This is a big reason why a person will crave increased amounts of drugs or alcohol the more they drink or do drugs.
2. Affects blood sugar levels.
In addition to creating feelings of nervousness, the drop in blood sugar levels that occurs with alcohol consumption also contributes to other symptoms. Dizziness, mental confusion, physical weakness, and shaking are also the result of lowered blood sugar. These symptoms are often attributed to anxiety.
3. Causes dehydration.
This symptom goes hand in hand with drinking and is usually to blame for hangover symptoms like headaches, fatigue, vomiting, and weakness that lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety.
4. Affects the nervous system.
When you drink, the body's nervous system kicks into high gear in order to fight off the sedative qualities of alcohol. The symptoms that come as a result of this include light sensitivity, involuntary shaking, and sleep disturbances. All these symptoms contribute to feelings of anxiety and can even trigger a panic attack in someone who is already prone to them.
5. Elevated heart rate
Alcohol can also cause a sudden increase in heart rate, which may put your body into a false state of anxiousness. When a person becomes aware of their increased heart rate and even palpitations, they may reach an even more severe state of nervousness as they wonder what's wrong with their heart.
6. Shame and regret about behavior.
This is a very common phenomenon among those who drink heavily. The lowered inhibitions that alcohol produces also leads to questionable behavior. You may feel extreme shame and regret about what you said or did while you were drinking, and this creates a lot of anxiety.